The images still haunt me. The Caribbean blue walls and sheer white flowing drapes floating above the dark hardwood floor of my hotel room. The warm glow of candlelight at the many small cafes on the main street. Most of all, I’ll treasure the sight of the saffron robed monks snaking their way down the main street at 6 am to gather their breakfast from kneeling villagers.
Where was I? An unspoiled town called Luang Prabang in the northern part of Laos. Once the capital of this landlocked Southeast Asia country, it is a World Heritage Site and the cultural center for this forgotten country. I was fortunate to spend a few days there with my son, Justin, last March. Wish I could have stayed longer.
Our hotel, named Apsara for heavenly maidens, is so beautifully and simply appointed, it made one of those major coffee table books called Hip Hotels. The main public space features a polished concrete floor, Chinese style lanterns hung artistically in clusters and original Thai art work. Small, elegant and simple. Affordable.
The town nestled in a slim valley by the Mekong and Khan rivers, is filled with Lonely Planet backpackers, the kind who are comfortable rolling into town and finding themselves an excursion at one of the travel shops along the main street. The hand lettered signs in front of these hole-in-the-wall places read, “Two hikers needed to join three day trek to see elephants in northwest region” or “room for more kayakers for a trip up the river.” No planning ahead required.
The other kind of visitor I noticed were baby boomers like me, but there in twos and threes—people who aren’t afraid to go it alone rather than join an organized tour. There’s no room for big tour groups in this town and, thank god, they would ruin it. There are no chain hotels or roads wide enough for big buses.
So, what’s the reason for my inclusion in Design Destinations? The exquisite and unpretentious hipness of our hotel, the glorious colors of the embroidery and textiles at the low key night market, the more than 30 temples scattered around the town and the chanting and drumming sounds of the 1000 or so saffron robed monks who live and study and meditate in this small unbelievably beautiful city.